Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Swashbuckling Spidermag helps put Second City strugglers to the sword

Birmingham 0 - 2 Newcastle Utd

We could have been forgiven for feeling sorry for ourselves. The Fulham blip aside, four fine performances had gleaned no more than a solitary point on each occasion. But no, we tried, tried, tried again and - at the sixth time of asking - claimed the win we've so richly deserved.

Having suffered only two home defeats all season and boasting two eye-catching loan signings in the shape of David Bentley and Obafemi Martins, Birmingham were never likely to be a pushover. Martins lined up alongside two other Brum players no doubt intent on proving a point: captain Stephen Carr, allowed to leave St James' Park having repeatedly failed to impress, and Sebastian Larsson, a January transfer target whom we felt wasn't worth the terms he was demanding. And with Lee Bowyer and ex-Mackem Rat Boy Phillips lurking menacingly on the Blues' bench, it looked like a scriptwriter's dream.

So credit to us for introducing a very early and unexpected plot twist. Alan Pardew had kept faith with the same front pairing that drew a blank at Ewood Park, and that faith was repaid handsomely within two minutes when Spidermag teased in a delicious cross for Peter Lovenkrands to finish neatly.

Spidermag had capitalised on good work from Jose Enrique, who picked up where he left off against Blackburn by skinning Carr. But our Spaniard looked equally dangerous in defence, allowing himself to be pickpocketed by Martins. The Nigerian set up Peter-Crouch-on-stilts striker Nikola Zigic, who was only denied by a superb Steve Harper save.

The Serbian beanpole was always going to be difficult to keep quiet, but we were doing an admirable job. Though the home side gradually started to assert themselves, particularly through underrated midfielder Craig Gardner, we remained calm and assured, keeping them at arm's length and making it through to the break with our lead intact. That's now a half-time clean sheet in each of our last seven away games of any description - which just serves to make the Arsenal result all the more extraordinary.

Stick or twist - that was the question as the second period began. And once again we twisted with the half only a few minutes old. Spidermag again supplied the ammunition from the left, Leon Best delivering the headed finish from close range - just desserts on a night when he led the line as well as we could have hoped. Big Lad might yet have trouble reclaiming his starting place.

If it was a relief to see Martins depart before the hour mark, expressions in the away dugout and stand were grimmer when the lively Lovenkrands' evening was curtailed by injury. Zigic continued to threaten on occasions, but Roger Johnson spurned the Blues' best opportunity, heading straight at Harper from a corner. Meanwhile, Johnson and his defensive colleagues were kept on their toes by some snappy Newcastle breaks, Spidermag scything down the flank and Best and Cheik Tiote both trying their luck with shots on goal.

With 15 minutes remaining, Best was afforded a standing ovation as he left the pitch. Birmingham, desperate to weasel their way back into the game, turned appropriately enough to 37-year-old Rat Boy. Thankfully, though, our sometime scourge made little impression - and neither did fellow substitute Cameron Jerome, other than a fluffed effort as the clock ran down, leaving the sizeable Toon contingent of a crowd 6000 larger than witnessed the Second City derby last month thoroughly satisfied at a job well done.

We're now unbeaten at St Andrews in seven visits in all competitions and have closed the gap on 5under1and to just two points. More importantly, though, we've given ourselves eight points worth of breathing space over 18th-placed Wigan. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Whelan.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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